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"For those departments where there is no Liberal Democrat minister, we should have a shadow secretary of state in the Commons... For those departments where there is a Liberal Democrat minister and a Conservative Secretary of State, then there should be a Liberal Democrat lead spokesperson in the Commons... For those departments where there is a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, there should be a Liberal Democrat MP outside of government with particular responsibility for that department's business."
There was a time, I believe, when the Tory and Labour parties agreed that the Liberal Democrats tended to say one thing but do another. This has taken that to a whole new level. The Liberal Democrats say that they are in opposition, but actually do government. The new deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats cannot have it both ways, and I hope that the Leader of the House can assure us that there are no such shenanigans going on with the Short money.
Will the Leader of the House ask the Justice Secretary, when he comes to the House for Question Time on Tuesday, to put right the comments made by the Home Secretary during the Queen's Speech debate on Monday? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the British crime survey, which is widely recognised as the most effective way of measuring long-term crime trends, shows that under the Labour Government crime fell by a third. Violent crime fell by 41%, burglary by 54%, and car crime by 57%. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Home Secretary to explain why she is still trying to avoid using the survey? Of course, the Tory party has form in this regard: the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) was rebuked by the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority for damaging public trust by manipulating crime figures. Not only is the Home Secretary in danger of misleading the House, but she is being very unfair to all those who worked so hard to reduce crime under the Labour Government.
I do not think the Leader of the House was in the Chamber to hear the Adjournment debate initiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who spoke eloquently and effectively about the Conservative-Liberal Democrat proposals for defendant anonymity in rape cases. The response of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), was frankly disappointing, and
showed very little understanding of the message that he was sending to rape victims. He did say, however, that the Government wanted informed contributions, and would consider all the options before formulating the proposals.
Given that legislation is not ready in a number of cases, and that we are having a number of general debates, may I urge the Leader of the House to allocate one of the future general debates to discussion of this important issue? If the Government are serious about listening before the proposals are presented, I really cannot see why Government time cannot be allocated to it.
Sir George Young: I was disappointed by the right hon. Lady's first request. She asked for the establishment of a business committee to be delayed yet further. The reason that the matter is on the Order Paper for next Tuesday is that the previous Government failed to make progress. We are honouring a commitment made in the last Parliament by me and by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House, to set up a Back-Bench business committee as soon as possible. Referring the matter to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee would simply redo the work of the Wright Committee, and would further delay the establishment of a committee on which I want to make progress. What we are doing is relinquishing the grip of the Executive on the agenda of the House, and giving Back Benchers the power and the time to schedule debates on the matters that they believe are important. When we reach the debate next Tuesday, I hope the House will seize the opportunity with both hands and make real progress with parliamentary reform.
On the right hon. Lady's second point, there has been no leak. I make it absolutely clear that Short money is available to Opposition parties. The Liberal Democrats are a party of government and therefore Short money is not available to them. I have no ministerial responsibility for what the newly elected deputy leader of the Liberal party wants to do in rearranging the internal machinery of that party.
So far as the Home Secretary is concerned, I was present when she made a fantastic speech to wind up Monday's debate, in which she dealt with all the issues regarding crime and crime statistics and set out some robust policies from the Government to deal with crime.
Finally, on the Adjournment debate, I was not present but I have read it. The issue is serious and we want to get things right. We agree entirely with the Stern review that serious consideration of the issue is needed, but there is ample time to debate it because no legislation on it is proposed for this Session. One of the objectives of setting up a Back-Bench business committee is to enable it to respond to requests for debates on important issues such as rape, so that they can be debated without the House continuing to be wholly dependent on the Government to find time to debate them.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): May I draw the Leader of the House's attention to early-day motion 188 in my name?
[That this House looks forward to the 2010 Trooping the Colour ceremony on Saturday 12 June 2010 to mark the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II; notes with pride that the flags of all the nations of the
Commonwealth are always displayed in and around Horse Guards Parade for this great occasion; calls on the Government to ensure that the flags of all Her Majesty's Territories are also flown in time for the ceremony, including Her Majesty's Crown Dependencies of the Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark, together with Her Majesty's Overseas Territories of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cuhna, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.]
My right hon. Friend will recall that on numerous occasions under the previous Government, I raised the issue of the failure to fly the flags of the British overseas territories and Crown dependencies on the occasion of Her Majesty's birthday parade Trooping the Colour. Will the Government change that policy and ensure that the flags will fly this Saturday, and will he ask the relevant Minister to make an urgent statement on this before Saturday?
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a good point, but he presents me with a challenging time scale if he wants me to do something by Saturday. He will have heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said from the Dispatch Box yesterday, and I hope that he draws heart from that. I will raise with the appropriate authorities my hon. Friend's robust request, which is backed up by others who have signed his early-day motion, and I will make sure that he gets a response.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House tell us when we can expect a debate on the revised police grant? As he will know, a £125 million in-year reduction has been made to the grant I agreed as the relevant Minister in only February of this year. I am anxious to explore how the Liberal Democrat promise of putting 3,000 extra police officers on the street is matched by the Conservative Government's cut of £125 million.
Sir George Young: I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will have seen today's written ministerial statement on the subject. He will find that it says that the matter is subject to the approval of the House.
Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): The coalition agreement says:
"We will bring forward the proposals of the Wright Committee for reform to the House of Commons in full".
Does the Leader of the House understand the concern of many MPs that the motion he has put forward does not represent the Wright reforms in full, particularly in the loss of days in the Chamber for Back-Bench business? Will he be open to representations on the issue with a view to improving the motion on the Order Paper?
Sir George Young:
The hon. Lady makes a good point. If she reads the Wright Committee report, she will see that it says right at the beginning that the proposals need to be implemented "in stages". There is a real issue with moving straight to having 35 days in
the Chamber: there would be implications regarding the amount of time for which the House sits and, more seriously, it would run the real risk of squeezing out time for the Report stage of Bills-an issue that concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House. I hope that we can debate the matter more extensively on Tuesday, but I can say that at least 27 of those 35 days will be on the Floor of the House. That is an improvement on the 12 days for set-piece debates that we have at the moment.
Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): I have recently received a letter from my local Age Concern expressing its deep concern about the axing of the future jobs fund. When can an early debate on the issue be timetabled?
Sir George Young: The hon. Lady might have seen today's written statement from the Minister with responsibility for employment, which sets out our strategy to move away from the current raft of different schemes, many of which do not provide good value for money, to a single work programme this time next year. We have set out our strategy. There is a debate on poverty that she might be able to use ingeniously to raise the issue. There are 5 million people on out-of-work benefits. We inherited a situation with rising long-term unemployment and we genuinely believe that the single work programme that we are introducing, with a tailor-made package for individuals, is a better way forward than the raft of regimes that we inherited.
Mr David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): Given that Labour left university funding in a mess and problems persist with the Student Loans Company, but record numbers are applying for university places, may we have a general debate on higher education in the near future?
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend makes a forceful case. He will have seen the thoughtful speech that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science made today. It would be good if we could find time for a debate on those issues. Of course, we will need to hold a debate in any case when we have the report from Lord Browne, who is considering future funding for higher education.
Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman's comments about the Liberals applying for Short money. Every parliamentarian knows-including hon. Gentlemen sitting behind the Leader of the House; we all believe the same thing-that the Liberal Democrats are all things to all men. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that no money is available for them. May I press him to say that no money will be available for them? In due course, if there is to be a change, will the Conservative Government also apply for that money?
Sir George Young: Short money is available only to Opposition parties; we have no plans to change that.
Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con):
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's statement that we will get the Back-Bench business committee, but I am concerned that the proposals of the Wright Committee, on which I sat, will not be implemented in full and we will not get the full 35 days. Will he reassure me that, if the business
committee recommends that the remaining eight days in Westminster Hall should be transferred to this Chamber, the Government will accede to that request?
Sir George Young: I take the opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend on his election to the Chair of the Treasury Committee. There is a resolution on the Order Paper, asking for a review of the scheme at the end of the Session. I am happy to have that debate. It is important to have it with the business committee because the more days we have in the Chamber, the greater the pressure on Report stages or on the House to sit for longer into August. We need a sensible debate between the business committee and the House about how exactly we re-engineer the House's time to get the best possible outcome. I do not rule out having more than the initial 27 days, moving up to 35, but I want the House to be aware that there are real problems with putting a quart into a pint pot.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): Some £5 billion has been wiped off BP's share price this morning as a result of the US Administration's seeking to restrict dividend payments. May we have an emergency statement from the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister about the crisis that engulfs BP? With the company paying £1 in every £6, a serious crisis faces millions of pensioners in the UK. We need to say to our US allies that, yes, a British company made the mistake, but if it had been subject to a regulatory regime in the UK, it would not have been able to do that, and that the world's insatiable appetite for oil is responsible, not British pensioners.
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman makes a forceful point. My understanding is that there are more American than UK shareholders in BP. Although the company is called British Petroleum, the dividend policy has as much impact in the United States as it does here. What happened in the gulf of Mexico is a human and environmental tragedy. The Government will do everything possible, in consultation with BP and the American Government, to help in whatever way we can. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's question will have been heard by the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor-all those who may be having a dialogue with the American Administration.
Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): Right hon. Members and hon. Members have entered into contracts of employment with their staff. We are legally obliged to ensure that their terms are obeyed, but they were imposed on Members by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Does the Leader of the House agree that that is unjust, unfair and potentially a legal minefield?
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend raises an issue that, I know, is of concern to all hon. Members. Earlier this week, the shadow Leader of the House, my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House and I held a meeting with the acting chief executive of IPSA. It was a constructive discussion and we outlined several possible solutions to the problems that confront hon. Members. There is a debate in Westminster Hall for an hour and a half next Wednesday, when my hon. Friend may want to raise the matter again.
Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to a debate on the consequences of the moratorium on and eventual cuts in social housing, which were discussed earlier, on urban regeneration, and the practice that that encourages in registered social landlords to engage in property speculation by sitting on land that they are not developing, thus leaving it empty?
Will the Leader of the House also ensure that his ministerial colleagues agree, as a matter of urgency, to a meeting with me and the Save our Stow campaign to ascertain what can be done to prevent the iconic Walthamstow dog track from being left derelict, given the persistent commercial interest in restoring it and the 500 local jobs that represents?
Sir George Young: I will pass on to my right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing the request for a meeting. The hon. Lady may have just attended Communities and Local Government questions, when social housing was raised.
Perhaps a half-hour Adjournment debate on the future of the Walthamstow greyhound track is a suitable opportunity to share with Ministers the hon. Lady's concern about its future.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): May we have a reaffirmation by Health Ministers of the statement made in opposition that fluoridation would not be imposed on Southampton and Totton without the approval of the majority of the people concerned, given that South Central strategic health authority has put aside £400,000 to fight a court case, despite opposition to fluoridation from 72% of the community?
Sir George Young: The coalition Government have no plans at this stage to change the legislation under which the health authority is proceeding with its plans to add fluoride to the water in Southampton and the surrounding district. My constituency verges on that district, and I am aware of the strong local feelings and the unhappiness among some people about the consultation exercise that was undertaken before the decision was made to go ahead. However, I would mislead my hon. Friend if I said that we were planning to do anything in the short term to change the legislative framework in which the decisions are made.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate to clear up the mess that is Government policy on further powers for the Welsh Assembly? Yesterday, the Prime Minister was unable to tell us whether he was in favour. The Deputy Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) that he was in favour, but that was a slip of the tongue, and it turns out that, he, too, did not know. In the main, Liberal Democrat Members are in favour and Tory Members are not. Is all that any surprise when we have the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who does not even know who the First Minister in Wales is, as Secretary of State for Wales?
Sir George Young:
The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Prime Minister said yesterday. The referendum cannot be held in October because the
outgoing Administration made no preparations for it, so it will be held next year. How people vote in that referendum is a matter for the people of Wales.
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con): Many of my constituents were outraged when my predecessor, who was elected as a Conservative, defected to the Labour party and did not stand down to cause a by-election. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on whether hon. Members should be required to cause a by-election if they defect to a different party from the one on whose manifesto they were elected?
Sir George Young: My hon. Friend says that many of us were outraged. I think that many people in the Labour party were rather surprised when that transition happened. He proposes a major constitutional reform of the role of Members of Parliament and their independence, and I do not think we should embark on that without thoroughly considering the implications. At the moment, we have no plans to do that.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): Does the Leader of the House agree that, in this week of world oceans day, it has been strange not to have a debate on the state of the world's oceans, particularly given the current state of the gulf of Mexico? Will he make time for such a debate so that we can consider the marine recovery strategy that international legislators agreed at the global forum in the House of Commons earlier this week?
Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman, who has a long-standing interest in the matter, makes a forceful case for a debate. Without giving any commitments, I agree that it is the sort of issue we ought to look at, and against a background of other demands I shall see what I can do.
Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): May we have a debate on overseas territories? Perhaps then we could discuss the ongoing financial crisis on Ascension island, whose only school is facing closure. The cause is an internal dispute between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence, and although it is very much a legacy of the last Government, will the Leader of the House join me in pressing Ministers to make an early resolution of the problem?
Sir George Young: It sounds to me as though the matter might be a suitable candidate for a debate in Westminster Hall, where my hon. Friend will be able to raise his concerns at greater length.
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab): In response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) on affording anonymity to those accused of rape, the Prime Minister said that proposals would be brought forward, enabling debate. That led me to think that the Prime Minister believes that the debate should take place in Government time, in the House. Given the grave anxiety that the proposals are causing not only in the House, but in the wider community, the sooner that debate can take place, the better. Will the Leader of the House commit to holding such a debate, and very soon?
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